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America's History in the Making

Resource Archive: Search Results

Westward the Course of Empire

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Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, WESTWARD THE COURSE OF EMPIRE TAKES ITS WAY (1861). Courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC/Art Resource, NY (ART27770).

Creator Emanual Leutze
Context Leutze had been commissioned by Congress to create a mural depicting westward expansion.
Audience Members of Congress and the nation's general public
Purpose To celebrate the nation's expansion

Historical Significance

Since at least as early as the nineteenth century, westward expansion has resided at the heart of American mythology and self-identity in fiction, movies, popular and academic history, and art. "Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way" is an oil-on-canvas mural study depicting emigrants at the continental divide. Congress commissioned the mural in 1860 for the nation's Capitol building. German-born Emanual Leutze had already painted another iconographic American scene: "Washington Crossing the Delaware." He traveled in the West to prepare himself for creating this painting.

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